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Devolution of Power and Resources: Local Communities

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 1 December 2016

1. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on further devolution of power and resources from Whitehall to local communities as part of his Department’s preparations for the UK exiting the EU. (907589)

5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on further devolution of power and resources from Whitehall to local communities as part of his Department’s preparations for the UK exiting the EU. (907593)

The vote to leave the European Union was a vote to take back control, and this Government continue to champion devolution to local government.

Newcastle voted to remain; the north-east voted to leave, and that is what we are doing, but no one voted to replace regional European support with centralised Whitehall neglect. Will the Minister confirm that, as powers are returned from Brussels, they will be devolved to the regions? Will he agree to meet me and local government representatives in Newcastle to determine how best to achieve that?

The hon. Lady invites me to visit Newcastle. In fact, I do intend to visit it, and I look forward to seeing her and local government leaders there. I must point out that this Government are making huge strides towards rebalancing the economy and empowering local government through the devolution of powers away from Whitehall. At the autumn statement, the Government signalled their intention to go further, including exploring devolution to cities such as London and Greater Manchester and to the west midlands, and offering greater flexibility for mayoral combined authorities to borrow for their new functions.

Although I voted in the referendum to remain, I fully accept the outcome of the democratic election and my focus now is to ensure that the people in my constituency are not worse off post-Brexit. Given that we have benefited from EU funding to the tune of around £5 million a year, may I seek a guarantee from the Minister that the Government have a plan to ensure that those resources continue to come to my constituency post-Brexit?

The Government set out a clear plan at the autumn statement for our strategic framework for the northern powerhouse. We are spending £13 billion on transport in the north, establishing Transport for the North and ensuring a statutory status. Investment in the north is very substantial indeed, and that is borne out by the improving—and, indeed, record—levels of employment in the north.

21. My right hon. Friend can afford to be generous and let local government spend these sums because they are trifling compared with the bonanza available to us all as a consequence of lifting the common external tariff. (907611)

I am glad that my right hon. Friend is so supportive of Government policy in this regard. He is absolutely right. Frankly, Opposition Members would do well to be more positive about the benefits of Brexit, rather than constantly seeking to talk down the economy.

I fully approve of more money going to the frontline, but can the Minister give me some reassurance that he will not be funding the “regions”—a pernicious invention of people who wanted to break up the United Kingdom into various parts that were not contiguous with any historical links to our communities?

Indeed, the regions are a European construct. Post-Brexit, we will be able to choose which parts of our country benefit from Government support.

20. The Lord Advocate has delivered his advice, in which he said clearly that if the great repeal Bill were to pass, Scotland’s legislative consent motion would be required from the Scottish Parliament. Why does the Secretary of State disagree with Scotland’s senior Law Officer? (907610)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, these matters are currently being litigated in the Supreme Court, which will consider them later this month. The judgment should be delivered before the end of next month.

Will my right hon. Friend point out to those who are moaning about the potential loss of EU funding that it is our money in the first place, and that for every £1 we get from the European Union, we have to pay £2 to achieve it?

My hon. Friend makes his point precisely; that is exactly the case. There will be substantial savings following our departure from the European Union, with more to invest in the local economies around our country.

Change in local government is normally done by Bills that go through this House. The system this Government are adopting is to charge local authorities or produce cuts in local authorities—representing, in Derbyshire’s case, about £155 million—and then to say that if they have the northern “poorhouse”, as it might be called, they will get a little tiny bit back. As for Brexit, we all know why the Secretary of State is going slow on that: because, unlike John Major before him, who had about 18 rebels, this time there are 80 Tory Back Benchers who are in favour of Brexit and about another 80 who are against it. That is why he does not deliver any information.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased when article 50 is triggered before the end of March. On the issue of local government in the north, all I can say is that there is huge enthusiasm in northern local authorities for directly elected Mayors.

We could be a bit more positive if the Government showed us a plan that we could be positive about. I assume the Minister misspoke when he said that the regions are “a European construct”. I can assure him that that is not the case where I come from in the north-east. They are very much not a European construct, but something about which we are intensely proud. For the Government to think that they can negotiate without involving regional businesses, civic leaders, airports and our universities really takes a special kind of narcissism. If there is going to be so much money flowing post-Brexit, why is it that the Government are refusing to guarantee every penny of our regional funding now?

The hon. Lady is entirely right: it is necessary to consult businesses, universities, civic leaders and all parts of civil society. Indeed, that is precisely what we are doing. The Department is engaging with representatives of over 50 sectors across the economy. This is important work, and it is much better to get a proper, reasonable Brexit than the hasty sort of Brexit that she and her colleagues seem to be advocating.