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Yorkshire: Devolution

Volume 785: debated on Monday 16 October 2017


Asked by

My Lords, we welcome the discussions council leaders and others are having in Yorkshire about future devolution. If they come forward with a widely supported proposal for a greater Yorkshire deal involving a mayoral combined authority and not unravelling the existing Sheffield City Region deal, we are, of course, ready to progress it with them.

My Lords, 17 of the 20 councils in Yorkshire came forward, on an all-party basis, with a one Yorkshire deal earlier this summer. The Minister will be well aware of the difficulties now that Barnsley and Doncaster have withdrawn from the Sheffield/South Yorkshire deal. It has also had strong support from regional business—the Conservative Party used to be the party of business. Can the Minister tell us why the Government are giving the very strong impression that they do not support a one Yorkshire deal and why the Yorkshire Post reports this morning that a number of Conservative councils across Yorkshire have apparently now withdrawn their support for this all-party, one Yorkshire deal?

My Lords, I know the noble Lord is very familiar with the position in Yorkshire, but I must correct him on the withdrawal of Barnsley and Doncaster, which he had inferred, from the Sheffield City Region deal. They have not withdrawn; they are not progressing the consultation, but that is somewhat different.

It is somewhat different. In relation to the existing position, it is absolutely clear, as the noble Lord indicated, that not all Yorkshire authorities will wish to progress with a deal that includes Sheffield. Sheffield City Region is split. The two larger authorities wish to progress with it; in the other two authorities, there is dissent as the noble Lord indicated. We encourage them to go ahead. The deal has been done, and people there have an expectation that it will be carried forward, and that is what we wish to see. If the other authorities want to come forward with a Yorkshire deal excluding Sheffield, we will look seriously at it.

My Lords, I have been involved for some time with the discussions about devolution for Yorkshire. I congratulate my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues on their patience and on their hard work with the local authorities and other interests to try to bring this about. Is it not correct that until there is consensus and a broad spread of support from cities and rural areas throughout Yorkshire, which we all know is a very fine brand, progress cannot be made? Is the Minister of the view that progress can be made if the greater Yorkshire model, which now appears to be subscribed to by most people, is progressed?

I am grateful to my noble friend, who knows what he is talking about in the context of Yorkshire as he has great experience. If a deal is to go forward, it will be on the basis that the existing deal, which the four constituent parts of the Sheffield City Region have subscribed to on many occasions, goes forward independently. If the other authorities—and it is for them to come together to determine this—wish to progress a greater Yorkshire deal, they can do so. If the authorities wished to combine thereafter—and that would be a matter for them—it would be possible for that to be discussed further down the line, but we have an existing deal, on which a great deal of time and energy has been expended locally and in both Houses of Parliament.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the discussions he and I had when he was a Back-Bencher about the need for a constitutional convention to look at a comprehensive and coherent structure of devolution for England, which would be much better than the ad hoc arrangements that are taking place, or not taking place, across the country? Will he tell the House how he is using his now great powers within government to advance that idea?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for exaggerating my powers. It is something he has done on previous occasions, and I am very grateful for that. I recall the discussions we had, but I think I was much more in receive mode than in despatch mode on those occasions. They were interesting discussions. The important point, and I am sure we both agree, is that these things have to be consensual. I am sure he will also agree that we cannot unravel agreements that have been made and on which a lot of people have expended so much energy.

My Lords, I think I heard it correctly that the Minister was hinting that if there were to be a greater Yorkshire deal—which I certainly hope there is—he would like there to be a greater Sheffield deal as well, and that at some future date there could be a merger. If that is the Government’s clear view, will they shout it from the rooftops? That could help a great deal, because the people of Yorkshire want a Yorkshire deal.

My Lords, that last proposition is untested. There are many different things that the people of Yorkshire want. What I did say, which I will happily restate, is that it is for the people of Yorkshire to decide where this goes ultimately. We have an existing Sheffield deal which I am sure noble Lords will understand we must progress with. If the rest of Yorkshire wants to come forward with a greater Yorkshire deal, that is for them, and thereafter it will be the subject of discussions between those two separate authorities if they want to progress things further.

My Lords, it all seems a bit shambolic. The Government are determined to press ahead with a deal that two authorities in South Yorkshire, namely Barnsley and Doncaster, no longer wish to progress with. Is there now not a case for looking again at the whole arrangement here and putting in place a deal that commands the support of all local authorities in Yorkshire, as well as the people who live there and business and civil society throughout that great county?

My Lords, that thesis would be all very well were it anywhere near the truth. I refer the noble Lord to the comments of the Member for Sheffield, the honourable Clive Betts, and to those of the leader of Sheffield. He will know as well as I do that this is all about a discussion—I will not push it any further than that—about who is going to be the mayoral candidate for Sheffield. That is the reality of why some of the authorities in South Yorkshire do not like it. I would encourage them to do what other political parties will be doing: select a candidate and fight those elections in the interests of that area.

My Lords, will the Minister kindly undertake not to consider devolution in relation to Wales unless it is genuine and sincere? I ask that question in light of the fact that the Wales Act of this year, giving a reserved constitution to Wales, has 197 reservations, most of which are utterly trivial, and that Clause 11 of the European withdrawal Bill has the effect, majestically and imperially, of undermining devolution completely.

My Lords, the noble Lord is very expert in constitutional matters and is asking me to range far beyond my brief on Wales and indeed more widely on Europe. These are no doubt important issues but they will be subject to much greater discussion when we look at that legislation.